In this assignment, you will explore the themes in “This Is Water” by David Foster Wallace.


In this assignment, you will analyze and interpret David Foster Wallace’s commencement address, “This Is Water.” Commencement is the formal name for graduation; it’s a speech to graduates at a liberal arts college — undergraduate institutions that emphasize studies in the arts, humanities, and social sciences.

You will focus on various elements, utilizing the SMILE method (Structure, Meaning, Imagery, Language, and Effect) — explained in the previous lesson — to explore the themes and concepts presented in the speech.


1.    Begin by reading David Foster Wallace’s commencement address, “This Is Water” (alternate link). Pay close attention to the speech’s content, structure, and the central themes he addresses.

2.    Structure (S): Analyze the structure of the speech. Consider the order of ideas, any repetition, and how Wallace builds his argument. What is the central message and how is it developed throughout the speech?

3.    Meaning (M): Identify the core meanings or messages conveyed in “This Is Water.” What philosophical or life lessons is Wallace trying to impart? How does his address reflect the human experience, particularly in terms of self-awareness, empathy, and choice?

4.    Imagery (I): Examine the use of imagery in the speech. What visual or sensory descriptions does Wallace use to convey his ideas? How does the imagery enhance the audience’s understanding of his message?

5.    Language (L): Focus on the language and tone employed by Wallace. Consider his word choices, style, and rhetorical devices. How do these linguistic elements contribute to the effectiveness of the address?

6.    Effect (E): Reflect on the impact of “This Is Water.” How does the speech make you feel? What thoughts or ideas did it provoke? Discuss the significance of the speech’s message and its potential application to real-life situations.

7.    Analysis and Interpretation: Based on your SMILE analysis, craft a well-structured essay that discusses the themes and philosophical concepts within “This Is Water.” Use specific examples and quotes from the speech to support your analysis.

8.    Personal Reflection: Include a section in your essay where you relate Wallace’s message to your own experiences, choices, and understanding of the world. How might this speech influence your perspective on life?

9.    Conclusion: Summarize your analysis and reflect on the lasting impact of “This Is Water” on its audience and its broader relevance.


•    Your essay should be at least 750 words.
•    Use proper grammar, punctuation, and MLA formatting. You do not need a “Works Cited” page for the speech itself, since it’s an assigned reading.
•    Use brief, specific quotations to help illustrate and prove your points. Assume your readers are familiar with the speech; avoid merely summarizing or repeating the points of the entire essay itself.
•    Submit your assignment as a PDF or DOC file below, using the MLA format.

Note: This assignment encourages you to engage deeply with the speech and consider its relevance to your own life and the lives of others. Please explore the themes and ideas presented in “This Is Water” with thoughtfulness and reflection.